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Nothing good happens in Washington unless good people outside of Washington are mobilized, energized, and organized to make it happen.- Robert Reich
Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if I could for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. -- Eugene V. Debs
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. -- Edmund Burke
What you do is of little significance. But it is very important that you do it - Gandhi
Activism is my rent for living on this planet - Alice Walker
This page was last updated in early 2019. For leter news and information go to this site
Students from across the University of North Carolina system have taken to the streets in recent months to demand an education system that they can graduate from without taking on crushing student debt.
McDonalds workers in New York, California and Michigan filed class action suits against the chain, as well as several franchises, for wage theft violations. The cases accuse the fast-food giant of systematically stealing employees wages by forcing them to work off the clock, shaving hours off their time cards and not paying them overtime, among other practices, according to a press release by the workers lawyers.
Passings: Saul Landau
Eric Tang, Post Capitalist Project - Non-profits, also known as non-governmental organizations, are often stripped down to their barest and most essential nature as an IRS tax category: the 501(c)3. This official registration with the government grants the accreditation needed to receive government funding and funds through private philanthropic foundations. In exchange, the grassroots non-profit must adopt legally binding by-laws, elect a board of directors modeled after corporations, and open board minutes and fiscal accounting to the public. Previously considered anathema to the grassroots Left, these practices are accepted governing principles of many community organizations. . .
Years ago the Left made a decision to go down a certain road towards non-profit incorporation. There were some victories but also a good number of political casualties, according to those who took part in that turn. Yet open dialogue on the complex challenges posed by the non-profit has often taken a back seat to the immediate need of getting important work done. Resultantly, a new generation of leaders inherit the unresolved dilemmas.
New activists in community, labor, and justice struggles are soon made aware that they bear heavy burdens. They must carry forth movements that ended Jim Crow, created environmental justice, and inspired mass anti-war protests. The young organizer can take a course that covers Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers and learn that all union members, even the lowest paid, contributed regular membership dues. Chavez insisted, "this is the only way the workers will 'own' the organization." Young activists will inevitably take a hard look at grassroots organizing that lives on foundation grants, hires a development director to raise funds to free others to do the real work, and adopts management systems which are foreign, if not alienating, to the values and skills-set of the grassroots base. Contradictions will be analyzed:
Why do we apply for a police permit to protest the police? Because if we break the law, our board is liable.
Why can't we lobby? Because that would violate our 501(c)3 status and the conditions of our grant.
Why not just take the streets? Because insurance doesn't cover it. . .
Indeed, the majority of organizational leaders I've sat down with over the past year and a half-whose work ranges from defeating the onset of neoliberal policies in public schools, to the ongoing struggle against police violence, to defending the rights of immigrant communities-have experienced, to varying degrees, an onset of the NP blues. They are concerned about the ways in which the priorities of philanthropy tamper with the organizing work, or how NP governance makes impossible the principle of unity which calls for youth and working class people at the center. Worse still is how hiring and promotion policies have led to competition and individualism among the ranks.
LEADING FROM BEHIND: An interesting interview with Nelson Mandela appears in Time Magazine in which Mandela lays out ten principles of leadership. Number 3 particularly struck us because it is one that seems to have been forgotten in an age governed by corporate executive systems of control rather than the community organizer's rules of getting things done:
No. 3: Lead from the back - and let others believe they are in front. Mandela loved to reminisce about his boyhood and his lazy afternoons herding cattle. "You know," he would say, "you can only lead them from behind." . . .
As a boy, Mandela was greatly influenced by Jongintaba, the tribal king who raised him. When Jongintaba had meetings of his court, the men gathered in a circle, and only after all had spoken did the king begin to speak. The chief's job, Mandela said, was not to tell people what to do but to form a consensus. "Don't enter the debate too early," he used to say.
"During the time I worked with Mandela, he often called meetings of his kitchen cabinet at his home in Houghton, a lovely old suburb of Johannesburg. He would gather half a dozen men, Ramaphosa, Thabo Mbeki (who is now the South African President) and others around the dining-room table or sometimes in a circle in his driveway. Some of his colleagues would shout at him - to move faster, to be more radical - and Mandela would simply listen. When he finally did speak at those meetings, he slowly and methodically summarized everyone's points of view and then unfurled his own thoughts, subtly steering the decision in the direction he wanted without imposing it. The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. "It is wise," he said, "to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea."
RECOVERED HISTORY: WHERE ARE THE PROTESTS?
Your editor was recently on a local Pacifica station program during which a participant suggested that public opposition to the Iraq war had been minimal. Longtime DC activist Jenefer Ellingston writes to note that "in February 2003 20 million people around the world demonstrated against Bush's plan to invade Iraq. . . probably the first protest before an invasion. It was the largest anti-war march in the history of anti-war demonstrations. Not just several million in America - In DC, NYC, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles . . . and smaller cities, but every capitol in Europe. Not thousands, millions.
"It's possible that one reason the peace movement is not visible in large numbers is: It's too expensive. That's why protests have been organized in cities across America - barely mentioned and rarely covered by the media. Our last demonstrations took place in 600 cities. Suppose there were 1,000 people in each of those 600 cities . . . that's a lot of people."
HOWARD ZINN, THE PROGRESSIVE - What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness - from being a racist to being in favor of racial equality, from being in favor of Bush's tax program to being against it, from being in favor of the war in Iraq to being against it? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.
It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness - embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.
[From Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi's speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on November 8]
ANDRAS SIMONYI - I was four when Russians tanks rolled down the streets of Budapest. . . I was just a kid and I didn't really understand what was happening. But it did leave a strong mark in my mind. I must say that I had a great family - a great father, mother, a brother and a sister, who helped preserve a life for me. That was pretty much like yours; they were very protective. This family took me to Denmark in 1960 where my father was trade representative, I had the luck to go to an American school - that's probably why I picked up some English and Danish, and I had the honor to just live the ordinary life of an ordinary guy on the streets of Copenhagen. . .
While I was in Denmark, particularly in '66 and '67, like the Danes embraced the rock music at its best, like the Danes got to know Cream, Jimmy Hendrix, Zappa, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and you name it, I got to know them as well. I was listening to this kind of music day and night. I didn't know what the underlying message was and I didn't care. I just thought this was something that I had to embrace.
In 1965, I bought with the help of my father my first guitar. . . It was a great guitar, it's a copy of a Fender Jaguar. I had a great time until in '67 we moved back to Budapest. Budapest at that time was not a very funny place. It was a pretty tough, dark, and gloomy place. It was just ten years after the 1956 revolution which was broken by the Soviets. Still, society was quietly and slowly coming alive. But it was a very tough place to be, especially for me who'd got used to freedom - freedom in the way I dressed, freedom in the way I communicated, freedom in the way I talked to people, and freedom in the way I picked up my music.
The music that I thought so much of was simply not available in Hungary. I stayed a year with an aunt and uncle of mine who turned out to be a very conservative communist. And honestly, they didn't get it when I started to explain about Good Vibrations and the Four Tops and the Spencer Davis group. She didn't understand. And my brother and I, we had a big old Bakelite radio that I got from my father so we could listen to Western radio stations and we used to listen to that at night. Listening to that music at night was very important to us to keep track of what was going on in the West. One night as we were listening to some real nice stuff, the old man came in, very angry, and took away the radio. Next day we asked for an audience and we said "Sorry for having listened to this music so loud," and he said "The problem was not that it was loud. The problem was that you were listening to a Western radio station." That was something that really hurt us - I was 14 and my brother was 16 - being told you're not allowed to listen to music on a Western radio station that we always used to listen to. That was real tough. And we got to understand very quickly that this Hungary is not very similar to the Denmark where we used to live.
Still, you had to keep going and it was so important for me, my continuing to keep in touch with the music scene in the West. It kept us sane and kind of made us part of the free world. We would listen to Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, and above all, to Radio Luxemburg. We used to listen to this stuff at night and as we listened to this radio, as we listened to Radio Luxemburg, we were suddenly out of our bodies and our soul was part of the free world. We would join our peers in the West. We would be part of the scene that was so natural for all of you here in the United States or in England or Denmark or Holland or elsewhere in the free world.
As I returned to Hungary, I was a good student. I don't know if I was smart but I always had good grades and that was in order to get things out the way so I could do my music. I did a lot of practicing, formed my own band, and got in touch with the Hungarian music scene which, strangely enough, started to grow immediately after the rock explosion in the West. The instruments were lousy, so I was a cool guy, I had great instruments. Instruments in general were no good but some guys somehow managed to get great instruments and they produced some good sound. And it was so good to be a part of this. That's where I met my old-time very best friend, Gabor Presser, who was my mentor, was my great friend - he's still my best friend, and he's still a great musician. . .
Of course, there was no records to be had. Here, you heard Led Zeppelin on the radio, the next day you walked into a record shop and bought it. In Hungary, we couldn't do that. Therefore, when we got hold of records, it was so much valuable. It was much more meaningful to us - it was not just something to consume, to buy. It wasn't just owning it; it was way beyond that. No one Hungarian had all the records, but somehow Hungarians together managed to get all the records. We would copy these records. I hope the copyright guys don't listen now because, honestly, whatever the reason, they would have clamped down on the Hungarians copying this stuff. But we would walk into this record store that would make one single copy of a record and sell it to us. We would tape it and then spread it five hundred times. That was kind of nice. That was really important to us. One way or another, we were very much part of the scene. . .
I created my own band and it was kind of a strange band. . . We used to play Cream in '67, '68 and '69. I would do Rory Gallagher, I would do some early Fleetwood Mac stuff. It was really very special because I'd always thought this was at the avant-garde of rock music. In 1969 however a band led by Stevie Winwood called Traffic, which I loved so much, came to Budapest. I had no idea how they got there and it was the strangest thing because I would know all the Traffic tunes by heart, you name it and I could sing it and I try to play it. "Mr. Fantasy" and "Medicated Goo," or whatever. . .
With the help of my father, I figured out where Traffic would be staying, which hotel, and after the concert I'd hang out at the hotel and Stevie Winwood shows up and it is like, I don't know, may I say it is like God showing up? And I started talking to him and we had some words and he said I'm sorry, I got to go, but I figured out that maybe it would be a good idea that I act as a guide for the rest of the group. So I took Jim Capaldi, the drummer, and Albert, the road manager down to Lake Balaton - which, by the way, is a place you've to got visit sometime - and we hung out for a couple of days. I was very really into something very special, talking to these people. That left a lasting mark on my attitude to music. Here is what happened: A few weeks ago my guys came back and said Stevie Winwood is playing in Washington this weekend. We got hold of Stevie Winwood and I went down to see the concert, a great concert. We started talking about what happened 35 years ago. He said "Yes, I remember. I didn't go to the Lake with you because I had to go and listen to some gipsy music." And I said "Steve, how did you get [to Hungary]?" He said "I don't know because we didn't go to any of the other East European communist countries." "Can you give me an explanation?" He said "Call Chris Blackwell." So I called Chris Blackwell, who was then their manager and I asked, "Chris, what the hell was Traffic doing in Hungary?" He said, "Look, I think you had some opening in '68 because no one else would take us in but Hungarians were crazy with this music and somehow the authorities allowed this to happen."
I didn't know then, and it didn't click, that was exactly the couple of years when the system lightened up a little, culture lightened up a little, economy lightened up a little, and of course Hungarians embraced as much as they could from the free world in this short opening which only lasted until 1972. But it was also something interesting that I have to tell you, and it didn't click before I talked to Steve Winwood: Hungarians didn't understand the text [of any of the rock tunes]. And I just suddenly realized that it was not the text but the power of music, the power of a couple of guys standing on stage with a Stratocaster, with a Fender bass, a guy playing on organ, a drummer playing a Gretsch drum set, that really made Hungarians think this was something very important.
So while the authorities tried to limit through the propaganda machinery the impact of this on Hungarians and obviously also on other Central Eastern Europeans, there was no way to stop the onslaught of the message of freedom through rock and roll. That was the most powerful instrument to convey the message to my generation about the free world. I do believe today, what the satellite and VHS was for the '80s and what the Internet is today, was rock and roll and rock music in the '60s and the early '70s. It was about sending a strong message of freedom through the Berlin Wall to us who were living behind the Iron Curtain. . .
We wanted to make music come as close to the best of the best in the free world as we could. . . And the funny thing was - you should understand that the lyrics were censored. We always had to scratch out something. We always had to change the words. When we spoke about the freedom of man or the freedom of the world, they would put something foolish into the text. They didn't realize that the music itself was more powerful than the text. They didn't realize that the real power lay in the music. So therefore my fellow musicians, those who came after us, they tried and expanded our little freedoms as much as they could. Sometimes they would hurt us, sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes they would "understand" what we were doing, sometimes not. . .
In 1972, I was going to defect from Hungary. I said, this is not the world I want to live in. I remember in 1972, I was standing in the railway station in Copenhagen and I called my mother and I said "Mom, I am not coming home." And she said "Son, okay, you're not coming home, but then I and Dad and your brother and sister will not be able to live the lives we want them to live." So I went back. And frankly, I didn't regret it because in 1974 I met Nada, my wife. That was a big deal and I think I enchanted her by starting to - I remember we were sitting in a bus and I started explaining to her about the new George Harrison hit "Bangladesh" and, you know, I described it to her from all angles. I think I was successful because she changed a lot through my convincing.
But I also want to tell you that in the meanwhile there was a hardening of the system and two guys from the band Locomotive GT defected to the United States. The drummer [Jozsef (Joe) Laux], and my great friend and hero the guitarist Tamas Barta. The saddest of all stories is that Tamas arrived in the United States and figured out that he will not be the great star that he used to be in Hungary and he will not be able to make it here and he ended up being shot in Los Angeles. It's a sad story but he really never was able to leave Hungary spiritually. Wanted to embrace so much the free world, the West. And this collision of the lack of freedom and wanting to be a Hungarian led to his fate. I miss him still. . .
In 1988. . . Amnesty International was on a world tour, and that was the year when I knew the Wall will be torn down and we will put an end to the Cold War and Hungary will soon be free. Amnesty International was brought to Hungary by Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Bruce Springsteen. Just imagine the powerful message of Bruce Springsteen singing "Born in the USA" at the stadium in Budapest and 80,000 Hungarian kids roaring and saying, yes, we're together. That was the year when I was 100 percent convinced that [communism] will be over soon. My friends in the West reacted in disbelief, but I was right. What stronger message than the message that came through rock music can you imagine?
In 1989, the world moved on and Hungary was free again. You might wonder, what next? My personal life, the music that I embraced all my life has played an incredible role of since. I have a very easy rapport with my friends and colleagues in the West, primarily in the United States. I got to know friends who are working for the U.S. government when we suddenly figured out that we were listening to the same kind of music. I name one song, you name the band. That's how I met your ambassador to Moscow [Alexander Vershbow], who used to be my friend and colleague in NATO, and he used to be a rock musician when he was a kid, still plays. And as we grew closer, as Hungary started to move into NATO, the closer this friendship grew. We jammed together and this really made our friendship close. We both agree that this is something that has to continue to glue us together.
I believe that rock music is not imperial, not imperialistic. Mozart used to belong to the Austrians. Does anyone ask anywhere in the world - in China, in the United States, in Brazil, in Moscow - where Mozart came from? You couldn't care less. The music that Traffic played, that Cream played, that Jimmy Hendrix played, that "Skunk" Baxter played belongs not to the United States or to the UK any longer - it belongs all of us. . . Rock and roll music is universal; it is a universal language. It's easy to embrace. It speaks to the people. That is why it was so useful and meaningful in penetrating communist society. Because it was understandable for all the peoples. It was not aristocratic, it belonged to all of us, the man on the street - the little guy who was walking on the streets of Budapest and the little guy who was walking on the streets of Warsaw or Prague. Just like the little guy walking in the streets of New York, Los Angeles, or Cleveland.
Try, if you haven't tried it, the excitement of strumming a Stratocaster. I think that's the closest you can get to heaven before you really get there. Rock is about freedom, rock is believing in our freedom and the freedom of others. I reject the attacks that I hear on rock and roll music. . .
ROCK & REBEL
UNITED STATES - SAM SMITH, WHY BOTHER? - In rock and rap -- as in blues and folk music earlier -- people found that what they couldn't achieve could still be sung or shouted about. And central to this sound was not just a message but who was allowed to deliver it. For example, the music webzine, Fast 'n' Bulbous, described punk this way:
"Punk gives the message that no one has to be a genius to do it him/herself. Punk invented a whole new spectrum of do-it-yourself projects for a generation. Instead of waiting for the next big thing in music to be excited about, anyone with this new sense of autonomy can make it happen themselves by forming a band. Instead of depending on commercial media, from the big papers and television to New Musical Express and Rolling Stone, to tell them what to think, anyone can create a fanzine, paper, journal or comic book. With enough effort and cooperation they can even publish and distribute it. Kids were eventually able to start their own record labels too. Such personal empowerment leads to other possibilities in self-employment and activism.
To move from challenging record companies to taking on the World Trade Organization was not an easy or obvious journey, but clearly some of the attitudes that made the anti-globalization protests possible were formed in clubs and not at conferences. . .
By the end of the 1990s, an unremittingly political band, Rage Against the Machine, had sold more than 7 million copies of its first two albums and its third, The Battle of Los Angele, (released on Election Day 1999), sold 450,000 copies its first week. Nine months later, there would be a live battle of Los Angeles as the police shut down a RATM concert at the Democratic Convention.
Throughout the 1990s, during a nadir of activism and an apex of greed, RATM both raised hell and made money. In 1993 the band, appearing at Lollapalooza III in Philadelphia, stood naked on stage for 15 minutes without singing or playing a note in a protest against censorship. . . In 1997, well before most college students were paying any attention to the issue, Rage's Tom Morello was arrested during a protest against sweatshop labor. Throughout this period no members of the band were invited to discuss politics with Ted Koppel or Jim Lehrer. But a generation heard them anyway.
PROTESTS, like everything else in life, can become pretty sterile. But browsing an online history of punk in DC, we came across a fascinating description of the role of local punk rockers in the anti-apartheid movement including drumming the hell out of the South African embassy. Go to the site, click on enter and then find the embassy on the map.
WHY SOCIAL MOVEMENTS DON'T WORK
MICHAEL ALBERT, who advocates what he calls participatory economics, has some important thoughts on why current day social movements don't do better in this interview. It's a point your editor has been trying to make for sometime, as in his 1993 book "Shadows of Hope:"Go back to the 60s and Ralph Nader was about the only public interest lawyer in town who wore a suit and his wasn't pressed. Today, many advocacy groups have drifted into the lawyerly style and pace of the establishment they are supposedly trying to change. They have, in their own way, become capital institutions, part of the ritualized, status-conscious, and very safe, trench warfare of the city."
NOT SO BARE WITNESS
BUT IT'S ALASKA AFTER ALL. About 375 clothed people formed an S.O.S. and a peace sign in a snow covered hayfield near Fairbanks, to speak out against the threatened war in Iraq. The sign, created by a diverse group of peace activists and church members, was 100 feet tall and 250 feet wide. For an incredible collection of similar protests around the world go to Baring Witness DORIS PFALMER PFOTO
SYDNEY INDY MEDIA - There's been discussion in geek circles about using the idea of flash mobs in protests. The idea is to get a large number of protestors to spread out over the target area and blanket it for a certain time. Rather than gathering a couple of hundred people outside the town hall, put a couple of people on each of the street corners in the central city, each with a placard and flyers. This way the protest reaches many more people directly, and in a more approachable way - one or two people are not as intimidating as a big group, and are more able to use the space without breaking any laws.
Media impact will most probably come indirectly. The first protest might get direct media, as they chase about trying to find out what's going on. After that I think it's more likely to be viral - people telling others about what they saw and the flyer they got. I think this is actually more useful to groups looking for an educational campaign rather than to apply media pressure to a politician, for instance.
If the police do ask someone to move on, they use the Critical Mass technique of moving on, and making the movement part of the protest. Simply move to the next corner, and if it's already occupied, those people move back to the first one. Or move on in turn. That way no one ends up getting pushed from one end of the city to the other. This makes the protest very difficult to shut down, as the cops have to round up a hundred or more small groups of people, each of whom is doing very little out of the ordinary.